Gretchen Shuey, of Catonsville, crossed the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado in under 30 hours. She said, “The biggest motivation for me when I wasn’t feeling great was I kept thinking about all the people that supported me to get me there.” hours.
Gretchen Shuey, of Catonsville, crossed the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado in under 30 hours. She said, “The biggest motivation for me when I wasn’t feeling great was I kept thinking about all the people that supported me to get me there.” hours. (Photo courtesy of Jim Bolton)

Catonsville resident Gretchen Shuey completed the Leadville Trail 100-mile Run in the mountains of Colorado in under 30 hours on Aug. 23. Afterward, she acknowledged what kept her going were those who helped her get to the starting line.

"I just kept thinking about all the people that got me there, and that was the main thing that kept me going," said Shuey, 45, who was elated to get the honorary sweatshirt with her time of 29 hours, 19 minutes and 29 seconds on it. "I really wanted that sweatshirt."

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That was significant because only competitors who cross the line in under 30 hours get the sweatshirt. The rest get a DNF (did not finish).

Shuey realized late in the race that she would cross the finish line under the 30-hour limit after she saw her husband, Jim Bolton, and dad, David Shuey, who were part of the crew assisting her in Leadville.

"He [Jim] met me about a mile and half from the finish and he said, 'You are going to make it,'" said Shuey, who started tearing up as she recalled that moment. "It was good to see him and know it was almost over and to get to the finish line and hug my dad."

They were there for the historic ending for the 1988 Catonsville High graduate who was running her first 100-mile race.

Back home in Catonsville, sons Kodiak, 10, and McKinley, 6, were shadowing her every move, while her mom, Pam Wilt, was monitoring her progress on Chronotrack, which tracks the runners at various points on the course.

"My oldest son was nervous and didn't sleep that [Saturday] night because he knew I wanted to finish it," Shuey said.

Shuey's mom kept Kodiak informed through the night.

"The 10-year old was so concerned for his mother, and I had to keep him updated on where she was and how many minutes it was taking per mile," Wilt said. "He knew she couldn't go over 18 minutes on the average."

Kodiak had told his mom before the race she had better finish so he could make a great first impression on the first day of school at Hillcrest Elementary on Aug. 24.

"He told me I had to finish the race because he would be a legend and I said, 'Well, what about me, I'm the one doing it' and he said, 'Nobody knows you.' I said, 'While I'm puking on Powerline hill, I'll remember that you need to be a legend at Hillcrest Elementary School, so I'll keep going. Both of my kids were really excited for me that I finished."

Shuey's mom acknowledged she was anxious.

"I was nervous for her because she wanted it so much and she wanted to succeed under the 30 hours," Wilt said. "I was worried about how heartbroken she would be if she didn't."

Longtime family friend and neighbor Michael Bowler couldn't believe what she did.

"Some things are remarkable and some things are just super remarkable," Bowler said. "The thought of running all day long and all night long is just beyond human."

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Shuey had to overcome pain in her right leg.

"My leg was bothering me enough by mile 60 that I pretty much did a fast hike the last 40 miles and I did a slow shuffle run along the flats," she said. "Fortunately, I had created a three-hour buffer at some point in the beginning of the race so I was able to use that for the second half of the race."

A day after she returned home from Colorado, Shuey was in the emergency room at St. Agnes hospital until late in the evening.

"My leg was swollen from the knee down so they needed to check for deep vein thrombosis, stress fracture and compartment syndrome and, ultimately, they didn't really figure it out and they gave me antibiotics and sent me home," said Shuey, who spent the next day at home with her leg elevated and an ice pack.

Shuey was the 46th female to finish under 30 hours and 12th in the 40-49 age group.

Elizabeth Howard, 43, was the overall female winner (19:34.08) and Ian Sharman (16:33.54) was the male victor.

There were 637 runners who started the race and Chronotrack had only 309 who finished in under 30 hours.

"The Leadville 100 has one of the lowest finisher rates," Shuey said.

The elevation and lack of oxygen are the biggest obstacles, especially for Shuey, who does most of her running around Patapsco Sate Park with a group started by Catonsville resident Michael Strzelecki called Patapsco Trail Junkies.

"He is such an ambassador for the ultra-running community and through him he had me do these training races and I have also been able to meet these amazing people," Shuey said.

Shuey, owner of the Bean Hollow breakfast and brunch restaurant in Ellicott City, also had the support of her manager, Sara Wilson, and staff during her extended stay in Colorado.

"I can't thank them enough," said Shuey, who flew out early for training camp runs before the race. "I went out 10 days in advance to acclimate because there is 30 percent less oxygen. Leadville starts at 10,158 feet and the race goes over Hope Pass, which is 12,600 feet, and you have to do that twice."

Nightfall was a lonely period during the race, and Shuey was helped by a pacer named Dave. Pacers run along with competitors but are not in the race. He joined her 60 miles into the race.

"At that point, it is 9 o'clock at night, it's dark and he took my gear," she said. "Basically, at that point my leg was really hurting and he went 25 miles with me carrying my water and food."

At 5:45 a.m. on Sunday morning, he left to go to work.

He said, 'I need to go pack my backpack, I'm taking 11th-graders on a hike,'" said Shuey, who finished the last 13 miles with a pacer named Tara.

"They are the kindest most supportive generous people, and they are strangers," she said.

The mental anguish was as painful as the leg.

"It's 90 percent mental," Shuey said. "You can only train your body to go so far and the rest of it is grit, guts and determination that gets you across the line."

During the final three miles, Shuey, who was wearing her third pair of shoes, needed every bit of determination.

"The only time I really truly wanted to quit was between mile 97 and mile 100," she confessed. "I had finally hit that moment where I just wanted to sit down and be done."

She relied on her thoughts before the race and the reassuring words from her husband near the end to get her to the finish line.

"You have to go in with the mindset of 'I will not quit,' and I was 100 percent sure I would not quit," she said. "You just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you hit the finish line or somebody sweeps you off the course."

Nobody swept her off the course.

"I have no plans to do another one," she said. "I really like the 50Ks and the 50-milers so I plan to continue doing those, especially because I hang out with the coolest people."

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